The state's 136 aided colleges, which are private but have been getting grants-in-aid from the Punjab government for the past 35 years, have been left in the lurch with the funds not being released for over a year.
The apex body of teachers of these institutions, the Punjab and Chandigarh College Teachers' Union (PCCTU), has called an Education Bandh (shutdown) on Thursday to protest against the indifference of the state government. The teachers have decided to march to the Punjab assembly during its budget session. (The academic session begins Wednesday-Thursday, depending on the college concerned.)
"We have been forced to resort to an agitation as the government refuses to listen and release the grant. We have done everything possible to convince the government in this regard but it seems hell bent on destroying college education in Punjab," PCCTU president P.S. Gill told IANS here.
"We have met the higher education minister at least 20 times and the secretary at least 50 times. They are now avoiding meeting us. We have sent requests to meet the chief minister and the deputy chief minister but have not got any response. Salary grants have not been received in the past 13 months. It is unfortunate that the government is playing with higher education," Gill added.
The shutdown will affect thousands of students in private colleges across Punjab that are aided by the government. Even the federation of private colleges' managements and principals have supported the strike call. The teachers also plan to court arrest.
The grant-in-aid scheme was started by the Punjab government in 1978 to encourage private managements to open colleges for youth. Many posts of teachers get up to 95 percent grant-in-aid to pay salaries to the faculty.
"There has been some delay in giving grants but from our side the release of grants is updated now. We are looking into the matter," a senior officer of the Punjab higher education department told IANS.
But the teachers and college managements are also upset that the Punjab government is gradually reducing the grants for colleges.
"Reduction of grants for aided colleges has come as a shock to aided colleges. The Punjab government has reduced the grant by 15 percent to private aided colleges and is allowing contractual appointments instead of regular ones for the posts to be filled," PCCTU general secretary Kuldip Singh pointed out.
Out of more than 3,500 posts of teachers in these colleges, over 1,925 have been lying vacant for the past few years as the government is not allowing regular recruitment. The government, it seems, is legalizing under payment by talking of contractual appointments for which there is no provision in the Panjab University calendar. The reduction in grant cannot be made without amending the executive order and the government is acting most arbitrarily," he added.
Even college managements and principals are worried about the situation.
"It seems like the Punjab government has completely ousted the issue of higher education from its agenda," Swaranjeet Singh Deol, the president of the principals' association of colleges affiliated to Panjab University, told IANS.
"These steps are directly or indirectly supporting the privatization of higher education because aided colleges are reeling under acute staff crunch and are struggling for survival. Punjabi youths are indulging in various anti-social and suicidal activities due to lack of affordable quality education. Already the poor state of education in Punjab will worsen with the mess created by the state government," Deol warned.